Sea dragons, a species of fish closely related to seahorses, are small masters of camouflage found in the waters off the coast of southern and eastern Australia, where they feed on tiny crustaceans like mysids and sea lice. These oceanic beauties are divided into two distinct subspecies: leafy sea dragons (Phycodurus eques) and weedy sea dragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus).
Leafy Sea Dragon Characteristics
Leafy sea dragons have flowing, leaf-like appendages and range in color from yellow to olive-green and brown. Their appearance makes it difficult for potential predators to distinguish them a floating piece of seaweed. Leafies have small, transparent pectoral and dorsal fins but generally float along with the ocean current like kelp and seaweed. A full-grown adult leafy sea dragon is around 14 inches long—about the size of a small floating seaweed bed.
Weedy Sea Dragon Characteristics
Weedy sea dragons have less ornate, leaf-like appendages but are still camouflaged enough to drift along with the current virtually undetected. A weedy sea dragon’s body is more slender than a leafy sea dragon’s, and appears in varying shades of red with bright yellow spots. Their smaller, budlike appendages tend to be purple and black. Weedies tend to be a bit larger than their leafy cousins, measuring around 18 inches long.
As poor swimmers, sea dragons spend the majority of their lives drifting along with the ocean current, waiting to happen upon food like plankton. Once it's found a meal, a sea dragon uses its long, pipe-like snout to feed. They don’t fancy social interaction; sea dragons are solitary fish. You won’t find a pack or family of sea dragons inhabiting a particular reef environment or interacting much unless they’re mating.
As with seahorses, sea dragon males are responsible for childbearing. A male leafy sea dragon’s tail turns bright yellow when he is ready to mate, while a male weedy sea dragon wrinkles the lower half of his tail to indicate he’s ready to receive a female’s eggs. A female sea dragon deposits up to 250 bright pink eggs into the male’s brood patch—an area of tissue on the underside of his tail that is shaped into tiny cups. Each cup holds one egg. The eggs are fertilized during the exchange, and the male carries them for four to six weeks before releasing the juvenile sea dragons into the ocean.
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Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.